Of course, digitisation in a mailroom context isn’t new. The first wave of digitisation and automation was related to the rise of powerful document scanners and document capture solutions, leading to the mixed, yet often centralised, mailroom we still see and which, in certain circumstances, still makes sense. But in recent years this centralised model has come under pressure as the need to capture documents and mail at the earliest point of entry has led to more hybrid and decentralised models.
Central mailrooms mainly exist in very large organisations, both in the public and private sectors, while smaller companies and branch offices often have hybrid versions. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other – no single, ideal solution exists. It all depends on issues such as the nature of the industry and the individual needs of the business and the customer.
Large business processing outsourcing (BPO) providers and service bureaux specialising in mailrooms have sprung up over the years, and are often de facto document capturing and processing hubs reliant on digitisation. Many document imaging and capturing and related digitisation processes still take place in mailrooms. When Restore decided to address the concept of the digital mailroom, it was in this context of digitisation and the automation of incoming mail processes.
Essentially, the digital mailroom acts as an enterprise front door for incoming data and documents. It automatically identifies several forms of correspondence in both hard copy and electronic format. The digital mailroom immediately analyses and distributes the information to whoever requires it, whether that is a department, individual, back-end system or front-end business process. The same system can serve multiple departments such as procurement, administration, accounts payable, and, of course, facilities.
There is now a common acceptance within both the private and public sectors that a digital mailroom provides multiple benefits. These include mail traceability and compliance, improved customer service, enhanced quality of data capture into downstream processes, and payback based on labour and space savings.
Triggered by a government-commissioned digital efficiency report in 2012, which concluded that it was possible to save up to £1.8 billion per year by going ‘digital by default’, the public sector is now striving hard to meet the challenges of making the UK digital by design from 2020. Early digital adopters, like the Ministry of Justice, are already reaping the efficiency and security benefits of digital systems like the digital mailroom, and are reducing their historic reliance on physical documents. However, many more organisations need to follow their example.
BARRIERS TO PROGRESS
There are obstacles – the size and complexity of public sector organisations, increased data volumes, growing security risks, and more freedom of information requests all mean that a lot of work remains to be done if the public sector is to meet its digitisation targets within the timescale.
The arrival of posted mail is the start of the paper mountain that has to be managed on a daily basis. Dealing efficiently with post, where there can be multiple buildings across various sites, can be time-consuming for any internal mail system. It can also be a weak point in the information security chain, with the ever-present risk of important documents going astray.
Advanced digital mailroom technology enables companies to rationalise their information delivery. An automated mailroom with document scanning and digital mail delivery to the correct person or department virtually cuts the physical movement of paper from the process. Important documents are assimilated into an efficient data management workflow solution, with vital information being quickly processed and accessed.
Restore recently created a digital mailroom for Stoke on Trent City Council to support its ‘paper lite’ policy. By digitising inbound communications and making intelligent use of the right technologies, an efficient system was created to identify, categorise and capture received information. Benefits included improved efficiency in handling and response times, reduced mail handling costs, better mail prioritisation, better channelling and control over communications, more effective information sharing and, of course, a reduction in paper usage.
The council was delighted with the improvements. The council’s corporate business administration manager revealed that before the change, delivering the post used to take three people all day. Afterwards, two people did it in half a day.
Working in partnership with specialists in digital document management can help public organisations to speed their transition to digital systems and meet government targets. In addition to the proven benefits, this would leave staff with more time to spend on other vital projects.
Digital communication strategies have been pursued by a growing number of organisations for over a decade, and the pace of change is increasing. Not only are communication strategies being driven by digital, but systems are changing as day-to-day actions are being replaced by device-based processes.
IOS for business is used across many areas, from nursing to maintenance, with form-filing being replaced by device-based forms, completed and sent digitally in real time, saving paper, time and money. Mailroom activities have followed suit, with the increase in digital communications continuing to drive mail volumes down or out altogether.
But complete reliance on digital has its pitfalls. Changes to data protection legislation due in May next year will affect all organisations who contact consumers by email – particularly direct marketing companies. Most significantly, data can only be legally held and used if a person has opted in. The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) will have increased resources and powers to audit and penalise companies who do not comply with the updated laws.
The changes mean that email data lists will require new information relating to opt-in permissions. This affects all business communication by email. There will be a reasonable timeline for re-permissioning, but companies who do not comply risk heavy fines. A balance can be achieved by switching back to use of physical mail, where the laws are less prohibitive. Mailrooms can act as a communications hub managing both physical and digital mail, using advanced communications delivery software to automate print and email workflow processes.
Nigel Copp, CEO KPM Group